Wednesday, May 30, 2007

An E-Mail I Did Send

Dear Mr. H***:

I am concerned about mixed messages sent to the students of **HS by some recent decisions made by the administration. In particular, I find the reward offered to students who took a recommended $75 four-session ACT cram course questionable. It is my understanding that in return for paying the fee and attending the sessions, juniors were exempted from their fourth quarter finals.

While the merits and efficacy of any cram course are debatable, that is not my main concern. My concern is that the choice to reward course takers with exemptions not offered to other students may appear to be the equivalent of “buying” their way out of the final exams. To the best of my knowledge, no academic conditions which might support earning an exemption from the finals applied, such as already having an A or high B in all class work prior to the final or even scoring above a certain level on the ACTs. Instead, it looks like “pay $75, escape finals”.

I have spoken with a number of people locally and received some disturbing feedback which supports my concern. One mother stated flat out that she paid for the course, not because she thought her child needed the cram course, but because she didn’t want her child to have to take a final in a difficult course and possibly get a “smudge” on her transcript. I’m sure **HS does not support grade grubbing or subverting class rigor, and I am disturbed that your actions may have resulted in that perception.

I also spoke with two graduates from **HS, one recent and one not-so-recent, both of whom received very fine scores of 31 on their ACTs, and they were aghast and offended that this option had been offered to current juniors. Both of them took rigorous courses, and in both cases they experienced exam results during their junior years which dropped their final class grades. They both stated that while it sounds nice to be able to “buy a better transcript”, they understood that studying for the finals and learning to accept a lower grade was a meaningful aspect of their education.

Additionally, I have discussed the matter with current teachers from other districts, retired teachers, and parents and students from other districts, and all of them have concerns about the ethical nature and educational goals of this choice. It seems to me that while you may have thought offering a cram course was a positive option, the incentive was contradictory to best practices in education, whether such was your intention or not.

I think it was a mistake to choose a reward which could be so easily misconstrued and misused. It's also possible that students may misunderstand the purpose of the cram course and believe it to be a suitable substitute for diligent, conscientious application to their daily studies for the three years they attend **HS prior to the ACT test. I am sure that you agree with me, and with the ACT service, that the best method for preparing for the ACT is consistent study in rigorous, demanding classes, not a short ZAP course. I hope that in the future you will consider offering rewards that support long-term, good academic habits and that you will avoid creating questionable incentives for things such as cram courses.

Calmer BoS


Jenn said...

Sing it, sister. My high school honored athletes big-time, but felt it "sent the wrong message" to acknowledge the valedictorian. I think they would have liked this "buy your way out of finals" plan. The admin just picked someone popular to make the speech at graduation.

They had a lot of trouble with "sending the right message."

I love your blog, Ms Strudel.

BoS said...

AAAAAAARGH! Sports High Schools-grrrr (gnashing of teeth). Why not just call it an athletic club with occasional classes, eh? Anyway, thank you for the kind remarks!